How to Select the Right Tree for Your Yard

Tree in Yard
Trees provide many things from protection to food on the table. (davelogan/Getty Images Signature)

Trees provide a lifetime of beauty, clean air, shade, and shelter. If you’re shopping for trees for a new landscape or to enhance your existing one, you may be overwhelmed by the hundreds of species and varieties of trees available.

One of the best ways to narrow down your choices is to determine the purpose of the trees in your landscape design, so you can choose varieties with the right characteristics. Here are some of the primary uses and types of trees in home landscapes.

Ash Tree
Ash Trees are perfect for hiding under from that hot summer sun. (epsy3008/Getty Images)

Shade Trees

Who doesn’t love the shade of a tree on a hot summer’s day? If planted in the right spot, these trees can also shade your home and significantly lower your cooling bills.

Shade trees are usually:

  • Dense with broad leaves. As air passes through the tree, it will be cooled by the leaves. For lighter shade, choose trees with finer foliage.
  • Tall and rounded or vase-shaped, with room to walk underneath the branches.
  • Deciduous trees that lose their leaves in the fall. In winter the bare branches allow sunlight through to heat your home. For maximum energy efficiency, plant deciduous trees on the southwest corner of a house (northwest in the southern hemisphere).
  • Ornamental varieties that offer both beauty and function through flowers, fruits, or fall foliage.

Popular shade trees include:

  • Ash
  • Beech
  • Elm
  • Forest Eucalyptus
  • Linden
  • Maple
  • Sourwood
  • Sycamore

Dogwood Tree
Dogwoods are perfect for that ornamental, decorative look in your yard. (NajaShots/Getty Images)

Specimen or Ornamental Trees

Specimen trees are planted by themselves, mainly for ornamental purposes. They are often used in lawn settings, as markers for entrances, or to provide shade for footpaths and seating areas. Since they’re intended as focal points, you shouldn’t have too many of them.

Specimen trees should have appeal for as many seasons as possible, so look for trees with attractive flowers, fall foliage, berries, unusual shapes, or interesting bark.

Specimen trees include:

  • Crabapple
  • Dogwood
  • Flowering cherry
  • Japanese maple
  • Magnolia
  • Redbud
  • Willow

Crape Mrytle
Crape Myrtles not only can provide shade, but they make for good borderline plants to keep your privacy. (skpavlick/Getty Images)

Street Trees

Trees planted along the street must be tough to withstand the stresses of traffic, pavement, heat, and poor soil. They also may need to be short enough to fit under power lines and compact enough to grow in a narrow strip of earth. They shouldn’t drop large fruits, nuts, or branches that could interfere with car or foot traffic.

Common street trees include:

  • Crape Myrtle
  • Elm
  • Fringe tree
  • Golden rain tree
  • Holly
  • Ironwood
  • Oak
  • Thornless honey locust

Holly Tree
Trees such as Holly or Fir grow tall and narrow, like columns providing you with the perfect amount of wind protection and noise cancellation. (Neal McNeil/Getty Images)

Windbreaks and Screening Trees

Windbreak trees are planted to provide a buffer against prevailing winds and storms. The best windbreak trees are dense evergreens which provide year round protection.

Windbreaks are also useful in the creation of microclimates in your yard, by providing extra shelter from frost and harsh weather. Windbreaks are best planted on the north side of your property (south side in the southern hemisphere), or as a buffer for prevailing winds.

Screening trees are a beautiful, economical way to provide privacy and reduce noise. For an effective screen, choose trees that are columnar in shape, with branches that start near the ground. They can be planted in a row or grouped more casually.

Some good windbreak and screening trees include:

  • Arborvitae
  • Fir
  • Holly
  • Leyland cypress

Satsuma Tree
Fruit trees are great decoratively and to enjoy the delicious food they provide. (JianGang Wang/Getty Images Signature)

Fruit Trees

Fruit trees make excellent specimen trees while offering edible fruits for your table. Fruit trees usually need more pruning, pest control, and attention than other types of trees, but they reward you with lovely springtime blossoms and seasonal fruits to enjoy.

Popular fruit trees include:

  • Apple
  • Cherry
  • Fig
  • Lemon
  • Orange
  • Peach
  • Plum
  • Pear

Further Reading


  1. Thank you so much!! I found everything I needed on this website! We have been talking about putting some trees on our property & were really confused to what we wanted until I found this website! We really need something to block the winds from the storms. Everything was fine until the land sold around us and the new owner cleared out all of the land around us which consisted of the trees that used to block all of the wind from us during the storms. Now we get all of the wind full force and we hate it! I know the trees aren’t going to save us, but it’s the thought of having a little bit of help against the heavy winds. Thank you again!!

  2. The sun is reflecting off of the neighbor’s window and melting our siding causing buckling and bubbles. I’ve read that a tree screen can help block the light. There is only
    about 10-12 feet between the two houses. What would you suggest that won’t get super wide or super tall. I will probably plant 2 -3 of these trees to create density. Please don’t suggest arborvitae…hate them!! The density needs to start about 6-8 feet off the ground to interrupt the light reflection.


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